Whisperin’ + Hollerin’
Dave Rothery Interview
Feb 25, 2005
by Tim Peacock
Courtesy of Louise + Gina Dipper
As a rule, were you to mention DAVE ROTHERAY, you’d normally think of the musical half of one of the most successful British songwriting partnerships since Lennon & McCartney: for by day the affable and totally likeable Yorkshireman writes the melodies behind Paul Heaton’s acerbic lyrical swipes in The Beautiful South.
However, what few people realise is that on the quiet, Dave is also a very accomplished lyricist, who’s been (literally) writing songs in his bedroom over the past few years and in recent times has linked up with under-rated chanteuse and famous daughter of Joe, Sam Brown to form HOMESPUN. The band’s two albums are gentle, bucolic singer/ songwriter affairs and the new one “Effortless Cool” is just about to see the public light of day. It’s a quiet little marvel and more than reason enough for us to place a strategic call to Mr.Rotheray for a chat.
Dave, tell us a little more about the roots of Homespun. Am I correct in thinking that you were literally writing songs in your bedroom and hoarding them before Sam became involved?
“Yeah, pretty much,” replies Dave, who’s upbeat, thoroughly open and great fun to speak with.
“It’s a compulsion to write songs with me, a sort of habit I can’t drop, and for a few years I’d built up a personal stash of songs I hadn’t an outlet for with The Beautiful South. I mean, I can’t sing, so that’s the solo album out of the window (laughs).”
“It was only when I met Sam (Brown) and became friends,” he continues, “that I began to think she’d be someone I’d be very comfortable to sing my songs to without too much embarrassment (laughs) and let her interpret them properly.”
How did you get to meet Sam to begin with? I read somewhere that she was your “first choice” as vocalist, but did you know her previously?
“Yeah, I’d met her backstage at “Later With Jools Holland,” reveals Dave.
“And also a couple of times backstage at gigs and I just really liked her. She’s very relaxed and I feel at ease around her, so she’s just what I’ve been looking for.”
Right. Actually, I remember seeing Sam live at the time of her huge hit “Stop” in 1989. I was really impressed as I was a bit derisory of her before I saw her perform. She’s got quite a voice, hasn’t she?
“Yeah, I think she’s wonderful,” Dave agrees. “I liked her when she was having those hits early on, but actually later she made some really amazing records. There’s one she did called “43 Minutes” that’s about the death of her Mother and obviously it’s really personal because of the subject matter, not to mention her least commercially successful one….but that’s an incredible record. For me, it’s the one you should really go our of your way to seek out.”
Point taken, Dave. But, while we’re on the subject, what do you make of Jamelia’s version of “Stop”. Because of its’ association with the “Bridget Jones” movie, the soddin’ thing’s been omnipresent on the radio, hasn’t it?
“Yeah, I’ve heard it SO many times on the radio, ” Dave laughs.
“When I heard it the first time, I phoned Sam and said :”Jamelia’s just massacred “Stop” all the way to No.5″. I mean, she’s just xeroxed Sam’s version, even down to the ad libs. She’s a good enough singer is Jamelia, but….well, let’s just say I prefer the original and leave it there,” he finishes diplomatically.
I must confess at this point that I’m presently entirely ignorant of the first Homespun album (eponymously titled, as far as I know), but I’m intrigued you’ve cited The Grateful Dead’s folkier period of the early ’70s (circa “American Beauty”) as an influence. On hearing “Effortless Cool” I can understand it, though: the gentle, downhome, folky beauty of the songs…
“Yes, that period of The Grateful Dead was a big thing in the creation of the sound of Homespun,” Dave confirms.
“I love both “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead” and also Jerry Garcia’s first solo album. I love the acoustic nakedness of those records. They sound a bit ragged, but it all just feels right. Also, instrumentally, I like the idea of playing something and just leaving it like it is without too many embellishments. Those albums don’t sound processed in the way much modern music does.”
Absolutely. But is Homespun the major creative force for you these days? You are still very much involved with The Beautiful South, aren’t you?
“Oh yes, very much,” replies Dave, “but Homespun is totally different in terms of approach.”
“In the South,” he continues, “Paul (Heaton) and I co-write, there aren’t songs just brought in by one person, but Paul is very much the lyricist, it’s almost entirely his forte. For me with Homespun it’s a different motivation and being the lyricist is very different.”
Is there a story behind the new album’s title “Effortless Cool”?
“Well, I had the title prior to the song,” divulges Dave.
“It was just a phrase I really liked, I thought it would look great on a T-shirt, y’know?” he laughs.
“The actual song “Effortless Cool” (one of the record’s highlights – Ed) is about fashion and the idea of beauty being on the inside rather than the outside, in the way it always seems to be perceived. I thought it would look very ironically funny to see someone like myself wearing a T-shirt saying “Effortlessly Cool”.”
To go back to lyric writing again, your press release states you weren’t : “interested in writing about themes or issues, but just my state of mind at the exact moment each song was written.” You were saying that Paul Heaton was exclusively the lyricist in The Beautiful South, so did you have to teach yourself to become a lyric writer? Was it something that sat awkwardly with you?
“Actually no,” replies Dave. “Because I’ve actually always thought of myself as a lyricist, funnily enough. Though my style of writing is totally different to Paul’s. I have to be in a certain mood to write and I can’t do abstract stuff or character stuff, the way Paul can write in the third person. That’s genius in itself, but it’s not natural for me to write that way. It wouldn’t convince anyone.”
Right. But personally I still think you write some witty observations regardless. Like on “Whistlestop Blues” on the new album, which opens wth the lines: “I’m in the buffet car at King’s Cross, imagining sex with you/ Is a bad first line for a song, perhaps, but it happened to be true.”
“Yeah, right,” laughs Dave. “I like that song myself. As you’ve probably gathered, that song’s about a train journey from King’s Cross up to Hull and it’s just describing my thoughts as they were. It’s really short…only about a minute, like “If We’re So Happy How Come We’re Drinking So Much”….that’s another one I like. It says the title a couple of times and disappears. I love stuff like that.”
Cool. But finally on that theme, I recently checked out a review of your “Homespun” on Amazon.com where the reviewer described you as sounding “like The Beautiful South without the cynicism.” How does that line of thinking sit with you?
“It’s probably quite accurate,” says Dave, matter-of-factly. “People like the cynicism in the South’s songs, it appeals to most of us, I think. But it’s not for me with my own songs. I mean, I do find cynicism funny and when it’s allied to a writer with Paul’s talents, the end results are often brilliant. But yeah, I can totally concur with that review. “Like The Beautiful South, without the cynicism – and drums!” That’s Homespun!”
Marvellous. But talking of the Homespun line-up, we ought be be aware that it’s more than just you and Sam, isn’t it? You’ve got people like Claire McTaggart, Tony Robinson and Melvin Duffy on board, who are famous for playing with the likes of Super Furry Animals and Portishead to name but two. How did you recruit all these names? You must have quite an address book, Dave?
“Ha ha, no it just came together quite naturally,” Dave laughs.
“Tony had done sessions with The Beautiful South. He knew Melvin Duffy and they knew the others through friends of friends. That’s the main thing, friendship. I couldn’t work any other way than with people I’m friendly with on a friendship basis.”
He pauses and concludes beautifully:
“After all, virtuosity’s all very well, but not if the guy’s a dick, right?”
Amen to that Dave.